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Death in Salem (Will Rees) by Eleanor Kuhns
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250067029
Date: 16 June 2015 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

It is 1796 and Will Rees, a traveling weaver, is in Salem, Massachusetts; he is buying cloth for his pregnant wife, Lydia. Rees has a chance encounter with a fellow war veteran, Stephen "Twig" Eaton, who is a mortician. At Twig's request, Will attends the wake for the wife of a wealthy maritime merchant, Jacob Boothe. The next morning, while traveling home in his buggy, Rees is halted by a frantic Twig who informs him that Jacob has been murdered. The tragedy has been compounded by the arrest of Twig's fiancée, Xenobia, a slave of Jamaican descent. While searching for the true killer, Rees discovers that the Boothe family has many dark secrets--secrets that will cause more deaths in Salem.

An extremely dysfunctional family is at the center of Eleanor Kuhn's latest Will Rees novel, Death in Salem. Before her death, Anstiss Boothe, the matriarch of the Boothe family, was kept in seclusion, her body wracked with pain; her husband, Jacob, denied her the opium she needed. The children are spoiled. Peggy, the youngest daughter, wishes she were a man so she could run the family business. Her brother, William, is power hungry. The other son, Michael, a playboy, wants to be an actor. The oldest daughter, Betsy, wishes only to marry a wealthy gentleman, but too many family scandals may prevent this. Also, it is rumored that Jacob Boothe was having an affair.

Books by Eleanor Kuhn
Will Rees Mysteries:
* A Simple Murder
* Death of a Dyer
* Cradle to Grave
* Death in Salem
* The Devil's Cold Dish

Salem is a strange city, rich with history. Superstition and suspicion still reign more than one-hundred years after the infamous witch trials. Taverns have names such as Moon and Stars and Witch's Cauldron. There is a bordello named The Black Cat. A myriad of dark tunnels lie beneath the city. These tunnels connect homes with warehouses, taverns and bordellos; they aid with smuggling and other illicit activities, including adulterous trysts. Rees's life is jeopardized when he pursues a murder suspect into the tunnels. There is a lot of tension whenever Rees travels beneath the city.

Rees's life, it appears, is in constant danger as long as he searches for an elusive killer. To make matters worse, his pregnant wife, Lydia, comes to Salem to aid him with his investigation. She serves as his sounding board. I constantly feared for the safety of her and her baby. In the last novel, Cradle to Grave, Rees and Lydia adopted five orphans. Rees has a fourteen-year-old son, David, from a previous marriage; David resents his father adopting more children. Father and son don't speak. It appears that Rees is in Salem partially to get a break from a family that has become overwhelming. Furthermore, his sister, Caroline, is still causing grief for him.

Indeed, Rees encounters family problems and more family problems. Rees can't escape them, whether they are his own or those of another. He even meets a little girl, Annie, who wishes to leave her mom, One-Eye Mary, who is the madam at The Black Cat. Annie wants to live in the Shaker community where Lydia once lived before marrying Rees. Also, Rees gives advice to a young lad, Billy Baldwin, the same age as David, who dreams of working on a merchant ship. Rees has a kind, generous heart. He makes an admirable detective.

The mystery in Death in Salem is a complex one. I didn't know the identity of Jacob Boothe's killer until nearly the very end. Neither did Rees. I almost felt as though he was ad-libbing when he had gathered all the many suspects together, a la Lieutenant Columbo, and announced the killer at the end of a lengthy dialogue.

A complex mystery, coupled with a large assortment of strange characters (one of which is the extremely effeminate, foppish Deputy Sheriff Swett), a creepy setting, gruesome murders, and a lot of emotional drama, makes this novel a must read for fans of historical whodunits. I love stepping back in time with best-selling author Eleanor Kuhns. I can't wait to read the next novel and hope Rees spends more time with his brood of adorable children.

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